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I recommend people have a look on You Tube at David Attenborough’s opening speech at COP 26 – he lays the situation in clear terms.

As part of Drayton’s Human Capital series, Byron Beatty caught up with Sophie Gallios, former MD of Pernod Ricard’s ‘The Gin Hub’ and now the Founder of The Climate Agency.

Q1: How did you first become involved in the drinks industry?

I arrived from Paris to London in the early nineties and started working at the Whitbread Beer company as their Brand Manager – diving into the world of pubs and working men’s clubs was a rapid immersion into British culture!

Q2: How has the front row of your drink’s cabinet changed since you left Pernod, and has anything influenced this other than just taste and fashion?

When I left Pernod Ricard, I was Managing Director of the Gin Hub, which included great brands such as Beefeater and Plymouth gins. Gin is a fun segment and I have a broad selection – Japanese, Parisian, limited editions and so on.

Q3: When did you start to think about getting involved in supporting climate change and charitable organisations?

I left Pernod Ricard after a career spanning several decades to become Deputy Executive Director at UNICEF UK. It was a change of company, sector, culture, and there was a strong challenge to adapt to new ways of working. I think it’s important to continue learning and be humble and flexible, as you grow in seniority. In UNICEF, I was involved in the preparation for COP 26 in Glasgow and met a number of NGOs working around Climate. It was never a ”Aha” moment, more a gradual realisation of how serious the climate situation was. I did not see many people with my type of corporate, strategic and communication skills in the climate sector, and I thought: “If not me, then who? And if not now, then when?”.
We are now in the run up to COP 27 in Egypt, and all the climate world is getting ready to pull together again. We hope we can help make some of their messages easier to understand and more compelling.

Q4: What have been the biggest personal challenges in making your transition from Consumer into a charity/environmental world?

The corporate world I know is more used to taking risks and being agile and fast. In the charity sector, resources are scarce ….. so risking them on new projects is, reasonably, a difficult decision. The culture is also more horizontal and democratic, which means highly motivated teams, but sometimes slower decision-making from what I was used to.

Q5: How do the leadership challenges compare, Consumer sector vs UNICEF vs Climate Change Agencies?

The Pernod Ricard teams value entrepreneurship and are business focused. UNICEF UK’s leadership needs to be very much value-based, and these values must be demonstrated in everything you do, they come above results or plans. The Climate Agency is a start-up, which I co-founded. I would hope to be able to bring together the agile and entrepreneurial culture of the business world to a non-profit organisation with strong and focused values.

Q6: What do you foresee the top 3 challenges will be in the climate agency in the next 12 months?

  1. Having too many clients.
  2. Not finding the right people to scale up.
  3. Getting lost in the tidal wave of projects and forgetting the big picture, where we can really have an impact.

Q7: What is the most valuable skill you've learnt from the consumer products industry (CPI), and how does that serve you now?

Strategic thinking. Having a vision, understanding what is going to block you, which stakeholders you will need and how you can message your vision to bring them onboard. Strategy is everything, and it needs to be simple, actionable, and measurable – not drowned in complex jargon, or trying to tick too many boxes.

Q8: Which of your roles in the drinks industry were most formative in your development as a leader and why?

For a decade, I worked in Luxury spirits – we created limited edition scotches that were sold for $10,000, with waiting lists across the world. In many sectors, getting a project 95% or 90% right is good enough, but not in Luxury, it needs to be 100%. I remember the chairman of BMW at the time saying, to build a luxury brand, the toughest and most essential skills was to learn to say no. This attention to detail at the same time as the big picture, the importance of storytelling and the demanding approach to execution has stayed with me.

Q9: What excites you the most about the direction and purpose of the current venture?

Well, some days I am excited and some days I am terrified… If you spend enough time reading about Climate Change, it feels self-evident we all need to do everything we can to keep our world habitable for future generations. I recommend people have a look on You Tube at David Attenborough’s opening speech at COP 26 – he lays the situation in clear terms. So I hope we find a way to create a small, highly competent team, which can help climate scientists and climate start-ups communicate and get the support they need.

Q10: If your current focus is perhaps the second stage of your career, what might the third stage look like? Do you feel that the breadth gained from leaving the drinks industry and pursuing your current endeavour will be valuable say in regard to a non-executive career phase?

I am a trustee and advisor to a number of organisations already, but I try to keep this limited as it can take a lot of time. You are right that in a third stage of my career, the non-executive roles may develop.

Q11: Now that you have had a little time away from the drinks industry, how has your perspective on its current challenges and opportunities changed?

That is a good question. With my new hat on, I wish that everyone working there had some basic training in the sustainable development goals, along the line of the free online course at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam - Driving business towards the Sustainable Development Goals. I think everyone in business should have an understanding of their impact on the world and how best in class companies are approaching this.

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